The great Baptist, John Gill, commented on every verse in the book of Revelation (as well as every verse in the Bible). He, along with many Protestant Reformers who preceded him, expresses some interesting views of the seven seal judgments.
Gill’s Interpretive Framework of the Seals
Gill is careful to ground the seal judgments in their original, historical context. Yet, he also sees them as recurring, in some sense, in future times. For instance, he states:
[T]he several steps and methods which God took to punish, weaken, and destroy the Roman Pagan empire, were remarkably seen in the distinct periods to which these first four seals belong, yet they must not be entirely restrained and limited to these periods, as if they were not made use of in others.John Gill, comments on Rev. 6:8
As such, he suggests the seven seals are aimed at destroying “Rome Pagan” as opposed to “Rome Papal” (comments on Rev. 6:1). He sees “Rome Pagan” as the Roman Empire and the seven seals as systematically dismantling that Empire.
The Seven Seals
The first four seals are four horsemen. Gills suggests (1) the first seal, the white horse rider, is Christ, and this refers to the Gospel ministration during the apostles’ times, which had conquering success; (2) the red horse rider, perhaps referring to the Roman Emperor, Trajan, refers to the subsequent violent reactions to the gospel by depraved men; (3) the black horse refers to literal death and famine in the times of Emperor Severus and others; and, (4) the pale horse rider, Death (with Hell as his undertaker), refers to the dying state of the once-powerful Roman Empire.
The fifth seal revealed the souls of all those who have been or will be martyred. The sixth seal, an earthquake followed by miraculous natural phenomena, refer to actual historical events that signaled the downfall of the Roman Empire. For instance, Gill cites a massive earthquake in Dioclesian’s reign; the moon turning to blood in his successor’s reign, Galerius; the sun failing (for four hours) when Constantine conquered Lucinius. These acts of God, he says, “may be considered as symbols of change in the empire” (comments on Rev. 6:12).
The phrase, “the stars of the sky fell,” (Rev. 6:13) refers to idolatrous priests; the phrase, “the sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up” (Rev. 6:14a) refers to the grip of Rome Pagan being taken away; the phrase, “every mountain and island removed from its place” (Rev. 6:14b) refers to idolatrous worship being demolished; and the kings of the earth hiding in caves refers to Dioclesian, Herecules Maximianus, and other emperors being driven from their thrones. Much of this Gill attributes to the Christian Emperor Constantine, and his sweeping, pro-Christian policies. Gill marvels that Constantine’s wonderful changes could not be “omitted in this prophetic history” (comments on Rev. 6:12).
One of the things we love about Gill is that everything fits so neatly into the prophetic calendar. Even so, were he here to answer for himself, we might raise a few concerns. First, some of the connections seem so arbitrary. Could it be his historical scope was too limited? What if things progress worse in the future? What if a conglomeration of religions/governments converge to make “Rome Pagan” pale in comparison to a “Global Pagan?” I suppose Gill protected himself, in some sense, by clarifying these might be recurring prophecies, but we still remain troubled by the lack of direct, textual connection. For instance, he even states the fifth seal ends in 313 AD at the close of the ten persecutions. How can we be so sure?
Second, once he limits the scope to Rome Pagan, he has tied himself to dealing with earthquakes, eclipses, blood moons, falling stars, etc. in that specific context. Some of his associations seem strained: falling stars equal falling priests; mountains being leveled equal idols being removed (he has a difficult time with islands “removed”); the sky being rolled up equals the Roman Empire dissolving, etc. The natural reading of the text makes these things “seem” literal (though we can’t be sure of that either). Gill cites evidence of literal fulfillments of some, but not all, of them. We wonder, then, if these things are yet to come.
In pastoral ministry, it’s frustrating when someone offers critiques but no solutions. Yet, I’ve done the same here. I’m full of critiques, and I have no solutions. So I’ll sit back, admire Gill’s work, admit I don’t know all the answers, and trust in this: The Lamb opened the seals. He knows all the answers.
I’m comfortable waiting in earnest expectation and leaving the rest with Him.